An art school needs an art gallery. That makes sense. In 1995, for an art school housed in a building that was constructed as an elementary school almost fifty years earlier, having an art gallery meant making an art gallery. And that meant work.
In the fall of 1995 it was Arts & Communication students who rolled up their collective sleeves and transformed a space that had been an office and switchboard room in another life into something special. Debbie Teeter, an A & C staff member at the time, recalled that “the walls were wood and we primed and painted them white. That primer was noxious!”
Fumes didn’t slow down the students.
They prepped and painted, set up space to hang paintings, drawings, and photographs, and built plinths to hold sculpture. By its opening, the gallery smelled better, and the folks who came in to see the student art witnessed something special: a big step forward for the little art school that could.
When it came to naming the gallery, and all good galleries should have names, the choice was easy.
Tom Marsh was a member of Arts & Communication’s original core staff, and his student centered approach to education helped shape the school. Before his time at A & C he’d worked on staff at Beaverton’s Community School and taught Social Studies at Sunset High. With a perspective on governance learned in part as a member of the Oregon House of Legislature from 1975 to 1979, he didn’t just teach government and civics, he lived them, and he encouraged in his students to have a voice.
Those voices sometimes manifested themselves in art, like the clay masks that hung above the black stencil reading: TOM MARSH GALLERY.
You can spot Tom Marsh in student films from his time at A & C, usually playing the heavy in a parody of some kind (advising James Bond, counseling Luke and Darth Vader). There’s a playfulness there that one can imagine was a part of his teaching life as well.
If we describe those early 1990s students as the founding mothers and fathers of our school, Tom Marsh might be thought of as ACMA’s guiding grandfather.
Today the masks that those students put on the wall above the Tom Marsh Gallery are still there, and they’ll be brought with us to our new building and reinstalled exactly as they are now in the fall of 2021. Art schools need art galleries, and ACMA needs the Tom Marsh.